The Diversity of Life
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The Diversity of Life

4.16 of 5 stars 4.16  ·  rating details  ·  2,949 ratings  ·  84 reviews
Tells the great story of how life on earth evolved. This work describes how the species of the world became diverse, and why the threat to this diversity is beyond the scope of anything we have known before. It also addresses the explosion of the field of conservation biology and takes a look at the work still to be done.
Paperback, 406 pages
Published 2001 by Penguin Group (first published 1992)
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Apr 20, 2008 Emily rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: lynettebachand
All my linguistics friends made fun of me when I took environmental biology at BYU, but it was honestly of the most spiritual classes I took there. I read this for a report in that class, and I absolutely loved it. If you want to learn more about how ecosystems work in the world in a way that will really make you appreciate the blessings of the Lord, this is a great book.
Jan 29, 2008 Lafcadio rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Marc
Recommended to Lafcadio by: Peter
I heard about this book and this author/scientist at roughly the same time (probably scientist first, then book, then author), but it was not my first E. O. Wilson book to read. Sometimes, when I hear too much about a book, it makes me want to read it less.

So, when I found myself amongst the impossibly tall stacks in the evolutionary biology section of Powells Books for the first time, E. O. Wilson's name immediately jumped out at me as familiar, as did the title The Diversity of Life, but I was...more
EO Wilson is just excellent. Writer. Ant Entomologist. Ecologist. This 400 page paperback is an introduction to biogeography, paleontology (including paleobotany), how humans are impacting various ecosystems from the rainforests, to the oceans, to the temperate regions like the US, to the Arctic. Extremely clearly written. Lets you in on the secrets of what's being destroyed as we humans expand our activities. And tells you the rate of death. Those species with only 500 individuals will not surv...more
The Diversity of Life is a practical book (a book that shows you how to do something). The first part of the book (well over 3/4) is devoted to a general overview of evolution - its history, the mechanisms through which it works, and particularly the process of extinction. The last part is a plea, an argument to save our planet's biodiversity. He shows a few of the already-known benefits we have received from it, hoping to prove it is too valuable to be summarily destroyed. Finally, he gives his...more
Not really sure how to rate this so I decided not to. I may rate it later, and if I do I'll probably go into some more detail in the review. Anyway, a few preliminary points:

i. The book/author politicizes and moralizes, and I hate that on principle.

ii. I was _very_ close to chucking the book after the first 10-15 pages because it reads like a very long NY Times article. Here are a few illustrative quotes from the beginning:

"Each evening after dinner I carried a chair to a nearby clearing to esca...more
Apr 05, 2008 Sarah rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: students interested in evolutionary biology
It kills me to have to leave a book unfinished, but this book was due back at the library, and I wasn't enjoying it so much as to go through the effort of reordering it to finish reading.

There are some really fascinating, sobering stories about evolution, ecology, and biodiversity here, and the writing is lively, but ultimately, the contents are too dense for me to read this for pleasure.
Jess Brandes
You can't help but get pulled into the ecosystems the author describes with such detail, and you also can't help but catch at least a little of his contagious love and fascination with all of the lifeforms around us. I loved reading it, and learned a lot. But mostly I just loved reading Wilson's writing and sharing in his infectious enthusiasm for organisms and evolution.
Aug 12, 2007 Karry rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: bio majors
Apart from being incredibly knowledgeable about ecology and naturalism, Edward O. Wilson is also quite eloquent and articulate, a trait that is unfortunately lacking for many scientists and scientists who try to write books. He's really just one of the smartest guys to have ever trekked through the Amazon Rainforest and lived to write about it.
Dave Angelini
As a biologist, I think is perhaps one of the most engaging and readable introductions to evolution and ecology. Anyone can read this book and not even realize they are learning the fundamentals of these fields. Wilson presents biology as a travelogue around the world and through time.
I love this book. I love it for what I learned about biodiversity and biology, and also to be able to read about this man who spent his life in healthy work.
Matthew Matheson
Read all E. O. Wilson Books.
I cannot say enough about The Diversity of Life by Edward O. Wilson. I have always been intrigued by the concepts of diversity and extinction without understanding them very well. This is the book for anybody with such difficulties because they are explored so thoroughly and clearly.

Species is the fundamental unit for understanding biodiversity and evolution although even this concept becomes fuzzy when speciation is still in the process of occurring through radiation. Understanding this within...more
My one-phrase rundown: Read it if you don't already know it.

This iconic book was about biodiversity, plain and simple. What it is, what it means, how it's created and how it's maintained. The prose is well-written and the ideas are typically Wilsonian in their insight.

So it's not as if I didn't think the book was good, or that Wilson isn't an impressive man in his accomplishments. I suppose the (minor) problem was that not much of it was news to me. Even back when I skimmed it - I believe they...more
A breathtaking read. Comprehensively rich and detailed in its examination of ecosystems from microscopic to epic proportions. Wilson weaves the overarching thesis ("I will give evidence that humanity has initiated the sixth great extinction spasm, rushing to eternity a large fraction of our fellow species in a single generation. And finally I will argue that every scrap of biological diversity is priceless, to be learned and cherished, and never to be surrendered without a struggle" (32)) into a...more
Life on Earth is fantastically, extravagantly diverse, something a nonbiologist rarely thinks about. Something few nonbiologists also realize is how poorly it is known to science. One would think that all the mammals have already been discovered, but no, in the 1980s and the 1990s, a new lemur species was discovered in Madagascar, a new deer species in Vietnam, a new monkey species in Gabon, a new whale species in the Pacific, and so on. One would also think that all the animal phyla (the phylum...more
Sara Van Dyck

This is a book rich with scientific detail about how biodiversity arose on the planet, how some species adapt, why others are forced to extinction by humans, and why that matters. Many ecological concepts are explained carefully, not requiring that the reader have a science background. E.O. Wilson, emeritus professor of entomology at Harvard University, does not shy from technical detail where needed. Fortunately he is such a gifted writer that he enlivens the science with colorful images: a tin...more
This book is a very comprehensive look at the immensity of biodiversity, the aspects of biodiversity we are aware of, the vast mysteries of biodiversity that we have not yet even touched upon, and why and how we might save biodiversity (and perhaps ourselves) for present and future generations. Having just completed an M.Sc. in Conservation Biology, I found that this book touched on all the topics we covered in immense details in my courses and was full of interesting examples. I found that it w...more
Greening USiena
Uscito all'inizio degli anni Novanta con il titolo "La diversità della vita" e ormai considerato un classico, questo libro ci conduce alla scoperta del processo evolutivo che ha prodotto, col passare delle ere, la straordinaria differenziazione delle specie animali e vegetali. Per cinque volte, negli ultimi seicento milioni di anni, questo processo ha seguito brusche interruzioni a causa di mutamenti climatici, provocati dalla deriva dei continenti o da catastrofi naturali come la caduta di un m...more
The Diversity of Life is more or less The Short History of Time of evolutionary ecology and biological diversity but with a disturbing twist. The cosmos and its workings are hardly threatened by man while we're destroying earth's ecosystems and its biodiversity at an alarming and depressing rate (and this book was published in 1992). The science is fascinating, and perhaps no one's better at communicating it to non-specialists than Wilson. But it's hard to imagine an ending to the story that's n...more
A great book by one of the world's leading experts on the subject. People with a little more background in the biology field will appreciate this book more than I did -- it was just a little too much like a text book for me to give it 5 stars.

Some major points I learned from this book include 1) For the last several thousand years our planet has had more biodiversity than at any time in its 4 billion year history, 2) Five great extinctions have occurred in earth's past -- the most recent one was...more
Well written and inspiring, as I expected. This book read like Cliff's Notes for several undergrad textbooks in ecology, evolution and conservation rolled into one. Some of it was a bit outdated - particularly the second to last chapter entitled "Resolution", as many more relevant and modern solutions have been suggested since the original publication of this book. I'm also not sure who the intended readership was. Wilson assumes readers have a basic background in biology based on the vague theo...more
This book does an excellent job of putting the current state of biodiversity in context, both of deep time and the immediate perspective. There are very clear explanations of ecological concepts. The simple title doesn’t convey the threats to biodiversity and the ideas for combating them that are in the book. This book thrilled me because it explains how ecological problems can be addressed, while considering the realities of human needs. I find it endlessly frustrating when conservation advocat...more
This was an important and interesting read. I give this book 3 and 3/4 stars. The technical and theoretical content was a lot of previously learned information from my Biology class...which goes to show that the information is highly relevant and accurate. I appreciated the many examples EO Wilson used to express his ideas. The most interesting part of this book for me what EO Wilson's chapters on Human Impact and possible solutions. It is the uncertainty of cause and effect that hinders our abi...more
I had no idea, for instance, that science doesn't know, even to the closest order of magnitude, how many species there are on the planet. Or that species occupy niches as specialized as, say, a stretch of east-facing slope above a tributary of the amazon. This book is amazing - a little dry at times, ok - but it's actually somewhat hard science. A lot of discussion of the biological basis of darwinism - genetics, competition, niches, adaptive radiation, all those lovely forces that made the worl...more
Samuel Viana
I read this book many years when I was a biology student I feel amazed by Wilson's simplicity and wonderfulness in his writing style. Edward Wilson, is as a good as a scientist as a writer and storyteller. I'm rereading this book again after so many years and I liked so much and I already ordered his most recent book - The Future Of Life . Besides Stephen Jay Gould or Richard Dawkins, there couldn't much better...
A science book that could be read for enjoyment, the author presented his ideas in clear terms and had well thought out organized arguments to support his ideas. My favorite chapter was the one regarding sustainable farming in the rain forest, it was novel to read something that was not just complain but offering possible solutions. The illustrations in the book were very clear visual aids that supported the text, and throughout the book real life stories were used to support the authors points....more
Florence Millo
I really should have given this book 5 stars because it is such a complete book on the diversity of life. But I gave it only 4 because it is too complete, each topic worked over and over again until it is just overworked. How many times does it have to be said that we don't know how many species there are? I hold Edward O. Wilson in the very highest esteem and it makes me very uncomfortable to be critical of him. I just wish that he had been more concise and less repetitive.
This book is a must read for any biologist or any one interested in conserving life on this planet. Wilson has a great writing style that really explores life and science while keeping it from getting inundated with science jargon. The last half of the book dealt with humans and our destructive ways, which was a big downer. The last chapter was beautifully written and was very Thoreau-esque, speaking to humanity and our deeply ingrained history with the natural world.
Edward O. Wilson is a well-known biologist. The Diversity of Life, one of his most popular books, is a sweeping analysis of biodiversity on our planet – its origins, the forces that threaten to destroy it, and the urgent need to preserve it. It’s a good introduction to the science, but more than that, it is a clarion call for the preservation of the Earth’s natural heritage.
Jim Talbott
This is a tremendously engaging book but also incredibly disheartening to start to recognize the scale of mass extinction humans are perpetrating on the planet. Some of the science is a little bit dated (written before the completion of the human genome project), so it could definitely use an update. The natural history is so compelling though that it's a minor quibble.
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Bio-Nerds: The Diversity of LIfe by Edward O. Wilson 1 3 Mar 20, 2014 05:12AM  
  • Where the Wild Things Were: Life, Death, and Ecological Wreckage in a Land of Vanishing Predators
  • The Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinctions
  • The Tree: A Natural History of What Trees Are, How They Live & Why They Matter
  • The Panda's Thumb: More Reflections in Natural History
  • A Gap in Nature: Discovering the World's Extinct Animals
  • Symbiotic Planet: A New Look at Evolution (Science Masters)
  • The Beak of the Finch: A Story of Evolution in Our Time
  • Song for the Blue Ocean: Encounters Along the World's Coasts and Beneath the Seas
  • Life: A Natural History of the First Four Billion Years of Life on Earth
  • Winter World: The Ingenuity of Animal Survival
  • The End of Nature
  • What Evolution Is
  • Oxygen: The Molecule That Made the World
  • The Emerald Planet: How Plants Changed Earth's History
  • The Life of Birds
  • The Species Seekers: Heroes, Fools, and the Mad Pursuit of Life on Earth
  • Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea
  • For Love of Insects
Edward Osborne Wilson is an American biologist, researcher, theorist, and author. His biological specialty is myrmecology, a branch of entomology. A two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction, Wilson is known for his career as a scientist, his advocacy for environmentalism, and his secular-humanist ideas pertaining to religious and ethical matters. He is Pellegrino University Re...more
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Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge The Future of Life On Human Nature The Social Conquest of Earth Anthill

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“Somewhere close I knew spear-nosed bats flew through the tree crowns in search of fruit, palm vipers coiled in ambush in the roots of orchids, jaguars walked the river's edge; around them eight hundred species of trees stood, more than are native to all of North America; and a thousand species of butterflies, 6 percent of the entire world fauna, waited for the dawn.About the orchids of that place we knew very little. About flies and beetles almost nothing, fungi nothing, most kinds of organisms nothing. Five thousand kinds of bacteria might be found in a pinch of soil, and about them we knew absolutely nothing. This was wilderness in the sixteenth-century sense, as it must have formed in the minds of the Portuguese explorers, its interior still largely unexplored and filled with strange, myth-engendering plants and animals. From such a place the pious naturalist would send long respectful letters to royal patrons about the wonders of the new world as testament to the glory of God. And I thought: there is still time to see this land in such a manner.” 0 likes
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